Toronto Chinatown shoplifter pleads guilty

The shoplifter at the centre of the David Chen case pleaded guilty Thursday to three theft charges and was temporarily banned from Toronto's Chinatown and Kensington Market neighbourhoods.

Court bans Anthony Bennett from Toronto's Chinatown, Kensington Market

The shoplifter at the centre of the David Chen case pleaded guilty Thursday to three theft charges and was temporarily banned from Toronto's Chinatown and Kensington Market neighbourhoods.

Anthony Bennett, 52, is the thief who Chen, a shopkeeper, chased and tied up on May 23, 2009. Last month, all charges against Chen were dropped in the citizen's arrest case, which made national headlines.

In October, Jeff Ng, owner of the Jungle Fruit Mart in Kensington Market accused Bennett of stealing four plants from his store in May and July.

Thursday, Bennett pleaded guilty to three counts of theft under $5,000 in relation to that case. 

Bennett was on probation at the time he stole the plants for previous theft convictions.

Ng says Bennett repeatedly stole from his shop and police weren't taking the case seriously.

"Frustrating from being stolen, and even more frustrating with the bad attitude from the officer," lamented Ng outside the courthouse Thursday.

Court bans Bennett from shopping districts

In a rare move, Provincial Court Judge William Bassel banned Bennett from Chinatown and Kensington Market until Dec. 28.  Bennett wasn't fazed by the restriction.

"I think it was good, and I won't be down there at all," he said.

The judge also ordered Bennett to attend a 28-day drug treatment program. But Ng is doubtful that those measures will change the shoplifter's ways given Bennett's long record of previous theft-related crimes, for which he has 43 convictions.

"Seriously, well how many years [has he been stealing], 30, 40 years, and 43 cases?" says Ng. "And you think a guy like him will change? I don't know."

Bennett is out on bail. His sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 17. More shopkeepers are expected to come forward with victim-impact statements.

Many, including Chen, who was in court Thursday, wanted Bennett's ban from the area bounded by Bathurst Street in the west, College Street in the north, Beverley Street in the east and Queen Street in the south extended to three years.

Chen said the three-year-ban from Chinatown will help "more store owners protecting their stuff."

Chi Kun Shi, a lawyer advocating for Chinatown shopkeepers, said the ban is a step in the right direction.

"This allows them to protect their property in a way that's non-confrontational, preventative in nature, and, hopefully, it will also send a clear signal to Mr. Bennett that he is not to do it again," he said.